It’s been said that big wave surfing is an older man’s game—that experience is just as valuable (if not more) than a young person’s energy. While a number of the world’s best big wave surfers are quite young (think Kai Lenny and Lucas Chianca), there are certainly a lot of examples of hellmen who are growing grey in the beard and long in the tooth.
Heck, Twiggy just won his third world title at the age of 45, and all three of his titles came after the age of 40. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that 30+ years of ocean experience is as just important as the flexibility and strength of a 20-year-old body.
But what about older surfers without a lot of experience? Is it possible to jump into the big wave game in your 40s and 50s, and make a proper go of it? While this might be a bit harder, it certainly isn’t impossible.
The key to getting started with big wave surfing is to find a user-friendly wave that allows you to push your personal limits, but that doesn’t have too high of an entry barrier that it disheartens you and drives you away from the sport.
Good beginner big wave spots will also be located near to larger, heavier waves that an aspiring hellman or woman can graduate to
These waves typically have safe channels from which you can work your way into the lineup, and produce quality waves even when they are on the smaller end of the big wave spectrum (which most people agree begins somewhere between 10 and 12 foot Hawaiian, or 20+ feet on the face).
Good beginner big wave spots will also be located near to larger, heavier waves that an aspiring hellman or woman can graduate to once they are comfortable in XL conditions and have developed the skills to push into the 15- to 20-foot range (30 to 40 feet on the face).
Finally, they need to be relatively consistent, because the more time you spend on a gun in heavy water, the faster you will become comfortable in situations that once scared the crap out of you.
The following five big wave spots meet all of these criteria, and are good stepping stones into the XXL arena. Happy hunting!
Sunset Beach, Oahu
The North Shore is the mecca of the big wave surfing world, and Sunset Beach is where every aspiring North Shore charger hones his skills. It’s also the go-to spot for most of Hawaii’s best big wave surfers when the swell is in the 10- to 12-foot range, which is a testament to how relevant the wave is at any level.
Forecast: Sunset Beach
Sunset has a relatively safe channel (although the occasional west peak will clean up the lineup from time to time), breaks best when it’s around four to five times overhead, is consistent (and consistently clean), and has that deep water feel that makes a gun appropriate even when it’s small. Best of all, there are half a dozen world-class big wave spots within spitting distance for when you are ready to graduate to the next level, and Jaws is just an interisland flight away once you are ready to move into the big leagues. Ask anyone on the big wave tour and they will tell you that you can’t hope for a better training ground than Sunset Beach.
Blacks Beach, San Diego
One doesn’t often think of XL+ beach breaks as a good way to begin a big wave career, but Blacks is Southern California’s only easily accessible big wave spot, and it breaks from knee high to around 30 foot on the face, making it an ideal spot to slowly progress from moderate to large waves. The beach break benefits from an offshore underwater canyon that funnels swell in and creates constructive interference, which means that it will often be half again as big as anywhere else in the region.
Forecast: Blacks Beach
Once it goes into the XL range, the crowd thins out and the rhino chasers get dusted off—and, as with any big wave surfing, the more time you spend on your big board, the better. Once you are comfortable on the biggest days at Blacks, it’s only a short flight to Puerto Escondido, where you will very quickly find yourself faced with the next level of big wave beach break heroics.
Moss Landing, Central California
What Blacks Beach is to Southern California, Moss Landing is to the north. The Monterey Submarine Canyon gives Moss the same swell-magnifying treatment, creating oversized beach break barrels that are the perfect training ground for San Francisco’s more challenging Ocean Beach.
Forecast: Moss Landing
The local wildlife can be a bit aggressive (think agro locals and hungry great whites), but that simply prepares you for nearby Maverick’s, which is arguably the heaviest XXL peak on the planet, and the obvious next step for aspiring Central/Northern California chargers.
Margaret River, Western Australia
The surfing epicenter of Western Australia, Margaret River is home to a plethora of quality reef breaks—including a handful that handle real size. Margaret Main Break is surfable up into the 10- to 12-foot+ range (25 feet and bigger on the face), and is a good place to get comfortable on a gun, despite the fact that most pros take it apart on their step-ups during the annual world tour event.
Spot guide: Moss Landing
Boaties is a lefthand outer reef that breaks down the beach from Main Break, and is best in that entry-level XL range as well. Margaret River cops nearly nonstop swell all winter, enjoys a storied big wave history, and has a healthy community of chargers, making it the obvious place to get started if you are an Australian looking to ride mountains. And once you are ready to take it to the next level, you can simply head 15 miles up the coast to Cow Bombie, arguably the biggest wave on the continent.